Immanuel

Psalm 73: 23 – 24

Nevertheless I am continually with You; You have taken hold of my right hand. With Your counsel You will guide me, and afterward receive me to glory.

When Isaiah prophesied about the coming Messiah, he said the savior would be called Immanuel. Immanuel means God is with us. That is one of the most important pieces of prophecy in the entire Bible. It is a key piece of theology. God is with us.

Jesus’ coming to earth, his sacrifice and subsequent resurrection change the entire dynamic between God and people. The temple moved. Instead of being an edifice made of stone and mortar, the new temple is you. God has come to live in us and to be with us continually. He is now intertwined with us and us with Him. There is no separation other than that which we create. Jesus said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him,” (John 14: 23). Jesus and the Father intend to make their abode with us. Jesus also promised that the Father would send the Holy Spirit who would come and be with us forever (John 14: 16). So there you have it, all three persons of the Trinity coming to earth to live in and with you always.

This is the dream and hope of the psalmist. He recognized God with him. He also hints at an important aspect. As long as we are with God, He is with us. He will never leave us nor forsake us, but it is important that we are “continually” with Him also, as the psalmist wrote. He made a decision to be continually with God and then acknowledged that God had taken hold of his right hand to lead and counsel him all the days of his earthly life. Then, at the end of his days, he knew and expected that God would receive him into glory. In other words, their partnership will never end. God was with him all the days of his earthly existence and then the Lord received him into the heavenly abode of God. That is the promise we have, God with us. Grab hold of His right hand and enjoy life with Immanuel.

Glory to God

Luke 2: 14             1599 Geneva Bible

Glory be to God in the high heavens, and peace in earth, and toward men good will.

Before we jump into verse 14, let us recall what happened in verses one through thirteen. Shepherds were near the town of Bethlehem keeping the night watch over their flocks. An angel of the Lord appeared to them and the Sh’khinah glory of the Lord shone all about the angel and the shepherds. The angel’s purpose was to announce the birth of the Lord. Immediately upon telling the shepherds the good news of the Messianic coming, a multitude of heavenly beings appeared with the angel and began singing and praising God. Verse 14 is what they sang.

Glory be to God in the highest! So, the angels’ song first describes the condition in heaven since the Savior is born. This is the angels’ declaration of how things are now that the holy birth has occurred. In heaven, angels sing praises to God. Glory is to be shouted unto the Lord and praises lifted up into the highest reaches of heaven. It sounds lovely.

On earth, a different result was realized. The Lord, our God, sent the Prince of Peace to earth, to us. Therefore, peace had finally come to the earth. The Tree of Life Version rings with Jewish revelation, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth shalom to men of good will.” Shalom was sent to earth. Shalom is wholeness. It is perfect peace. It means that everything that was broken, is now repaired. Every shortage or lack has been filled. Nothing is missing, nothing broken. It does not mean “lack of wars” although that is what some people read into this verse. War is a man-made conflict. God sent His peace, His Shalom, but people do not have to receive it and they certainly do not have to reflect that love and acceptance to other humans. It does mean, though, that God has accepted us, that He loves us and that He has provided everything we need to heal, first, our own hearts, then our relationships, and even eventually our land. If we let God’s peace and love, which has been shed abroad in our hearts, multiply then there could be peace among men. Father God sent restoration, wholeness. The word Shalom brings to our understanding that in the baby’s birth God sent His peace to us on earth. He has given us the ability to be whole in every aspect of life and to be at peace in our hearts; no lack, no unrepaired emotions or bodies, just perfect, quiet completeness in all things.

The last phrase may be the greatest news of all for it tells us that the Messiah’s insertion into the earth carried with it God’s good will towards humanity. The Messiah came to restore us to God. We were estranged with no way to reach God and no way for God to live with us. We were separated, but He sent Jesus so that we could be restored to Him, so that He could have His kids back. The birth of the baby savior heralded God’s good will towards humanity. Because of Jesus, God was able to reunite with people. He was restored to us; His good will and good intentions having come to reside on the earth.

That is what the angelic host sang. Hallelujah in the heavens! All praise and Glory to the Great One. And, on earth – peace, Shalom, and God’s good will, love and good plans for all humanity.

Quickly Defeated Foe

Psalm: 11 – 14          God’s Word

But my people did not listen to me. Israel wanted nothing to do with me. So I let them go their own stubborn ways and follow their own advice. If only my people would listen to me! If only Israel would follow me! I would quickly defeat their enemies. I would turn my power against their foes.

What do you hear when you read this passage? Do you see God’s sentiments towards the ancient Israelites? Perhaps you see His message to modern Jews? Perhaps it sounds like a reprimand to the body of Christians or even to each of us individually. All of those are legitimate views but I see good news when I read this.

I do view it with modern eyes. This passage has to do with us both collectively and individually. I see it as good news because even if we have not followed His counsel perfectly in the past, there is His promise that if we will listen to Him, He will quickly defeat our enemies. He will turn His power on all of our foes.

Who are your foes? Perhaps your greatest enemy is a busy schedule. Maybe the foe you have been battling is your personal finances. Or, maybe your business looks more like an oppressor than a blessing. It doesn’t matter what your challenge, God is ready and able to take up the fight for you. For most of us, our foes are less tangible than a personal nemesis. Our battles are with our weight, and hence, our diet, our work life, our schedule, unfulfilled dreams, etc. The first thing we must do is to identify what we really fight against in our lives. Is it depression? Relationship issues? Perhaps you are still carrying around scars from your childhood. Spend some time with the great counselor to figure out what inhibits your healthy, happy life most. Then receive His counsel. He has said if we will abandon our advice in favor of His counsel, He will defeat our foes for us. In 2 Chronicles 20 He showed the Jews that they need not fight their own battles. He is happy to turn His power against our adversaries.

If we will lean on God rather than our own understanding, our own advice He calls it, then He will be the God of our lives and the God that we pray for. As long as we are stubborn and listen to our own “wise counsel” we will remain locked in battle. It would be better that He take charge and rout the enemies in our life. Let’s practice listening to Him. Let’s wind up our engines right now for the new year. Get ready New Year – we are charging in with God leading the charge. Hoorah!

Be Filled

Psalm 81: 10

“I, the Lord, am your God, Who brought you up from the land of Egypt; open your mouth wide and I will fill it.”

This is a declaration of a God who wants to serve. What an amazing epiphany that is. have you thought of Yahweh as one to serve you? Wow! He brought each of us from our own Egypt. It is easy and not insignificant to think of the Israelites held in bondage to Egypt and its Pharaoh but that is not the complete Biblical picture. All of the stories in the Bible of past real events are included in the Bible for each of us. The Bible may well be the best storybook of all time, but that is not its ultimate purpose. Those stories are included for our edification.  Egypt, therefore, represents our own personal bondage. We’ve all been captured by destructive habits and/or relationships. God wants us to know that He is the one who led us into freedom and is available today to bring us out of Egyptian oppression.  That is not the end of the story, though. God doesn’t lead us out of our personal Egypt only to leave us starving in the desert. Just the opposite, He says, “Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.” Now that you are free, be blessed, be filled.

I found an interesting twist on this. The first half of verse ten from the Passion Translation reads, “I am your only God, the living God. Wasn’t I the one who broke the strongholds over you and raised you up out of bondage?” First God must free us from bondage. The second half contains the provision but only in the Passion Translation do we see the nuance that is suggested in the other versions but only spelled out in this one. “Open your mouth with a mighty decree; I will fulfill it now, you’ll see! The words that you speak, so shall it be!” Did you see it, the little secret in the verse? When God invites us to open our mouths, He means for us to say something. The Jews would have known this. They knew their blessing is in their God given language. That is why they greet each other with a blessing. Most Christians expect to pray and God will provide but that is not what God is saying. Most of our praying ends up more like begging than decreeing. God wants us to say something declaratory. When Jews greet one another the substance of their greeting is, “Be blessed!” They don’t beg God to bless you, they declare the blessing upon you that God has already given. You see, they know what God did in the Old Testament, so they have a better sense of their rights and authority. A Messianic Jew can decree in the name of Jesus with absolute confidence. That is what the Father would have us do. Decree something and Dad will fill your life with it.

He longs to be a blessing to each one of us. He wants to serve us. The key is in our mouths. What are you saying?

What a Day!

Luke 2: 8 – 13           Complete Jewish Bible

In the countryside nearby were some shepherds spending the night in the fields, guarding their flocks, when an angel of Adonai appeared to them, and the Sh’khinah of Adonai shone around them. They were terrified; but the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, because I am here announcing to you Good News that will bring great joy to all the people. This very day, in the town of David, there was born for you a Deliverer who is the Messiah, the Lord. Here is how you will know: you will find a baby wrapped in cloth and lying in a feeding trough.” Suddenly, along with the angel was a vast army from heaven praising God.

This is the familiar Christmas story but from a version you may not have read before. Today we get to look at this passage through Jewish eyes. Imagine, then, what it was like to be a Jewish shepherd 2000 years ago. Everyone had been taught about the coming Messiah. They were looking for him. As God sent Moses when the nation was in slavery in Egypt, they looked to heaven for God to send His savior to free them from the occupying forces of Rome. Behold, an angel appeared from God, Adonai, announcing that the savior, the deliverer has come.

You would expect bedlam to breakout. The long awaited deliverer had come. Any message brought by an angel is sure to be important but what of this Sh’khinah of Adonai? We would usually call this the “glory” of God, but the Jews have a bigger vision of the word. It is more than a shining light. It is more than a bright glow. This is the radiant presence of the Lord. The Sh’khinah glory of the Lord is what preceded and accompanied the Jews in the desert during the Exodus. When the angel appeared to the shepherds this “glory” enveloped everyone, not just the angel. The shepherds were bathed in and encompassed about by the light which was the sheen that radiates off of the Father. He was there, in that moment, to bring the good news about His son being born. Of course, the shepherds were overwhelmed by this presence and the angelic messenger. They were in the midst of an other worldly kind of event. Many times when an angel appeared to someone in scripture their first words were “Do not be afraid,” because people can be very startled by the appearance of spiritual beings. The shepherds apparently recovered themselves, though, because they stood there and received the angel’s message. Then, as if they had not been witnesses to a most amazing event, the host of heaven joined with that angel messenger in praise to the Lord. This version tells us that suddenly there was a vast army of heavenly beings there with the angelic messenger.

What a day in those shepherds’ lives. I bet they were never the same again. I wonder what the sheep did. Could they see the angels, the glory and the huge, heavenly entourage? Imagine those sheep as the ones selected for the sacrifice. That must have been some sacrifice after the Sh’khinah got all over the sheep.

It’s fun picturing these events as we read our Bibles. It’s also a fabulous way to receive revelation. Once you begin to run the movie suggested by the words the scripture comes alive. Imagine yourself as one of the shepherds sitting out in a field, bored to tears, watching a bunch of sheep when all of a sudden an angel appears, especially the angelic herald of the Savior, Messiah, Deliverer. That was a day to remember for them and one we still marvel over all these years later.

Tend the Sheep

Luke 2: 8 – 9          NLV

In the same country there were shepherds in the fields. They were watching their flocks of sheep at night. The angel of the Lord came to them.

Did you ever wonder why the angel appeared to shepherds? Why not clergy or statesmen? If an angel came with a message today, to whom would he appear? The answer, to those who tend the sheep. Selah.

There is speculation about these shepherds. Who were they? I offer you, rather than answers, food to ponder. We know they were shepherds near Bethlehem who were keeping the night watch. That alone is enough to fuel the imagination as it conjures thoughts of the boy David who was lowly and humble. While his brothers were celebrated as soldiers, little David was out in the fields keeping watch over, “those few sheep,” (1 Samuel 17: 28) as his brother taunted him. Mock as you will, big brother, for what city was the Savior, Messiah born but in the city of David. And, who had to save the day, and the nation, when the soldiers all trembled in their boots at the giant Goliath, but the little shepherd boy, David.

Shepherds were not a favored group of people, part of a lower caste. It is interesting that the angel would appear to a group of people who did not rank well on the social ladder. Because they were not people who were looked up to they would seem the least likely to be able to get the message out about the new king. Who would listen to a group of dirty shepherds?

Of course, any mention of shepherds is incomplete without a discussion of Jesus who is the shepherd. Was God, showing us that this newborn child would turn out to be the great shepherd by revealing his coming to a group of shepherds? Another connection to shepherds is that Jesus is often referred to as meek and lowly. He certainly was not a proud or arrogant man. His connection to shepherds doesn’t end there though.

Some scholars speculate that this group of shepherds was tending a specific group of sheep, which would explain why they would be near the town of Bethlehem and why they would be tending sheep in the open fields in winter. This may have been a flock of sheep selected for the sacrifice. How poignant would it be if the angel appeared to a group of shepherds who were tending the sacrificial lambs in order to announce the coming of the lamb whose blood would be offered for the salvation of all people? That is a pretty powerful thought. I told you Easter is embedded in the fabric of Christmas. From the day baby Jesus was born, his sacrifice was revealed.

Jesus’ first heralds were the angels, but they were followed by a group of dusty, lowly, peasant class shepherds. Those shepherds proceeded immediately to Bethlehem to see this miracle birth and having seen the babe, began to tell the good news received from the angel.

A child is born, a humble birth, proclaimed by shepherds rather than church or cultural leaders. To this day, Jesus is the friend of the lowly and savior of all.

What’s Love Got to Do With it?

Isaiah 9: 4

For you will break the yoke of their slavery and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders. You will break the oppressor’s rod, just as you did when you destroyed the army of Midian.

There was a popular song by this title. I admit, it always rankled a bit because it is a song right from the heart of pain and brokenness and that is where we all were before love entered and repaired the injury of our past.

Yesterday we favored a popular verse from this chapter. Verse 6 is the good news – a child is born; a son is given. Yahoo! But, what does love have to do with it? Look at the verse which precedes the giving of the divine child for the answer. The premier Father of all saw the slavery, the heavy burden upon the shoulders of us all. He saw the oppressor’s rod beating us down. The weight of our lives was too much for our shoulders; the oppressor too strong. The burden of simply surviving weighed upon humanity, and indeed, each of us so oppressively that drawing air was all we could manage. Under the might of the oppressor’s rod we had no strength to mount a defense much less an offensive attack. Therefore, Love, sent a child.

Does that even make sense? Love sent a child to break the yoke of slavery and oppression from our backs. Thank you, beloved, for this first of all Christmas gifts. And, it is this gift which we celebrate at Christmas. As we thank God, our Father, for removing the yoke of bondage from our shoulders, we may also pause and remember that there are still many people who do not know the freeing gift of Christ. They still live in the pain and the turmoil of a bitter, hard life.

Jesus came to grant liberty to the captives, freedom to all who are enslaved by any type of burden. Truly, those who are without Christ suffer and are as bound as the Israelites in Egypt. Perhaps, they suffer even more because their spirit and soul suffer torment while they have the illusion of being free because they are not physically chained. Anyone who can call love a secondhand emotion has never experienced it.

What does love have to do with it? What does love have to do with anything? Absolutely everything. Love is the answer to the question and to every question. If we stop and ask what love has to do with each situation of life, the true answer will present itself because God will show us the way. Love sent a baby to earth to free you, and me, from pain and from all those things which attempted to enslave us.

Love sent the first Christmas present, a child. Now, I send you love as this year’s present. Merry Christmas!